Day 154, Avignon, 10.763 km
Here we are, slowly but surely, I’m approximately halfway. 5 months already since I left under the sun in Hamburg, and I ended up arriving in Avignon. And since Jay was starting to limp a little (I’m breaking a spoke every other day at the moment), I decided to offer him a new wheel for Christmas, which forces me to stay a little longer than planned at my uncle and my aunt before leaving for Spain. The plan to spend New Year’s Eve in Barcelona will not come to life, which was more or less sure anyway because of this damn virus… In short, departure expected in early january but still nothing certain for the moment…
But I left you in Toulouse with my mouth full of raclette… I took advantage of these few days in the pink city to see friends and family, admire a “champagne” rugby sequence from the Stade Toulousain, make a little pilgrimage to the rue de l’Étoile (where I use to live as a student), chat with the next generation of Supaéro engineers, meet lots of babies, visit a house under construction, discover the charming little town of Gragnagues and above all empty the fridges and cellars of my hosts… a treat!
But all good things having a beginning, I hit the road again to join Chantal and Olivier, the next family members on my list of visits, in Saint Thibéry. I take my time so much that I don’t leave until around noon… We relax a bit, Mr. Lunet, Jay tells me… Nice start of the stage, It’s warm for the first time since I left my parents’ house. Everything goes well until Lavaur (nice bridge by the way) then flat tire. The front wheel for a change. While I’m repairing the wind is picking up. Great. And he blows hard on top of that. I lower my head and push the pedals. At Castres, I am looking forward to get to the cycle path I saw on the map, the Passa Païs, which should almost lead me to my destination. I imagine trees to protect me from the wind, a quiet little road away from cars, a nice thing… But what a mistake… He should have known… I am offered a superb departmental road, very crowded, with night beginning to fall, and still a small and sneaky headwind until Mazamet. Awesome. It’s then a little better but it’s pitch dark, the batteries in my headlamp are not very strong and I can barely see a meter in front of me. I start to look for a place to stop. I look to the right: sheer rock. On the left: same… I continue a bit and finally find a little corner sheltered from the wind. Perfect!
The next day, my gas cylinder dies as the water for my tea starts to boil. Easy. The rain starts to fall as I get back on the bike. Not so easy. But I’ll sleep in a bed tonight. Quite easy in the end. The landscapes are superb, I cross a river every kilometer, I have great views of the surrounding hills assailed by clouds, of the villages nestled in the valley, I really enjoy it!
The end of the stage is a bit long, I’m a little fed up with being wet despite the encouragements from my inner self and I’m happy to arrive. The shower, the snack, the dinner and the discussions that await me are all the more pleasant. Olivier tells me in particular: « Be careful if the road is flooded, do not try to go through at all costs ». Banco! The next day, I didn’t ride a kilometer that I see water on the road. I pass a first puddle. I go for the second, my feet are in the water after 10 meters. Bad idea. Fortunately, another cyclist shows me a railroad track that overlooks the road and appears to be dry. From what I can observe from my perch, I did well not to insist!!
So I continue my journey, soaked but happy. The weather is nice, it is even starting to get hot! And in addition I arrive at the sea. Under the sun. The dream. The cycle path runs along the beach. Not very sheltered and the wind blows hard but the view is worth it. I pass through Palavas-les-flots, La Grande Motte: I just have to close my eyes to imagine the hordes of vacationers, the monster traffic jams, bumper against bumper, but there, no one. Just Jay, Bob and I, and the occasional little granny who takes her afternoon walk. And the sun (I know I put a lot of emphasis on the sun but it’s been a while since I last saw it…).
I follow the cycle path, and my shadow follows me (I almost forgot this one existed). Aigues-Mortes. My watch tells me an altitude of -10 meters. I tell myself that we will have to mark this place with a white stone for the future pilgrims as the lowest point of the trip. Google unfortunately disagrees, we are roughly at sea level. Missed.
The road continues along Canal from the Rhône to Sète, in the Camargue. A delight. The pine forests on the sides of the road make me want to stop there to sleep. I see birds, ponds, towers, bulls and even people, it feels like summer again. I find myself in the middle of the ponds: I spend 15 minutes stopping every 10 meters to take a photo. Then an hour and a half, headwind and in a straight line out of the ponds. Expensive pictures… The sun is setting behind my back, the wind has dropped a little, a beautiful day is ending. I pass Arles and stop in a small village just after in the municipal stadium (I was told that this was the pinnacle for wild camping, so let’s test!)
10:00 pm. A lamp lights up my tent. I stick my head out: “Good evening! – Good evening, it’s the Gendarmerie. Don’t worry, we’re not here to steal your bike « . Nice these gendarmes, immediately reassuring. « You are passing by? » No, not at all, I bought these 4 square meters of lawn to settle there. « Are you leaving tomorrow? – Yes, around 8 am – Very well, good evening then » Either they were a little zealous, or I was seen and reported. I’m starting to wonder if someone isn’t really going to come and steal my bike. So I tie him up.
10:30 pm. I hear footsteps around the tent. I put my head out: “Good evening! Good evening » A young man, tracksuit, sneakers, cap « The gendarmes are around here, I wanted to warn you. – That’s nice, they already passed by. – Pay attention to yourself » There are just too many people interested in me. I tie Jay to a fence. And I wake up almost every two hours to check if he’s still there. In the morning he did not leave, phew … Conclusion: it is true that you sleep well at a stadium, on the other hand I will find myself a smaller village next time to avoid night visits…
The next day I’m looking (again) for a repairman for a spoke. I find one in Salon de Provence. As my uncle Jean-Claude told me, this is not the most beautiful section of the trip: a highway on the left, pebbles on the right, and wind ahead. Straight line for 20 kilometers. Besides, when I get to Salon, the guy tells me he doesn’t have time. No problem, I find another one in Venelles, just next to my aunt Sylvie’s where I am expected for lunch. The road winds through the olive trees, I have the mountains to my right and to my left and even though the sky is gray it is still not raining. I meet Sylvie, the cousins and Grandma for lunch before heading back to Avignon.
I start with a big hill (with a full stomach that’s great) then a loooooooooong descent before following the Durance canal. Wind in the back, on the flat, I ride well. The Alpilles on my right and the sun in my eyes. Then I cross the Durance and ride along the Lubéron. It is superb. It climbs a bit in the forest but not too much either. I’m supposed to meet Jean-Claude in Caumont-sur-Durance, so I do a little time trial between Cavaillon and Caumont: more than 30 km/h on average, heavy legs, and I finally find my dear uncle to finish the stage and arrive in Avignon.
Rest now, with a fresh start in January, depending on the progress of containment measures and my dear Jay’s health. Until then, merry Christmas everyone!!!